From Slavery to Freedom

Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of human trafficking survivors.

Josephine was born in 1869 in a small village in Darfur. While still a young girl, she was kidnapped by slave traders and sold into slavery.

For over a decade, she was bought and sold many times and endured horrendous experiences, including torture by her various owners. She suffered branding and beatings on many occasions. It is said that once, her owners cut her 114 times and poured salt in her wounds to make sure that the scars remained.

Her captors asked her name, but in her fear as a result of her trauma, she was unable to remember the name her parents had given her at birth. Mocking her, they named her “Bakhita,” which means “fortunate.”

In 1883, Josephine was eventually taken to Italy where she served a family as a maid. While there, she came to know the Canossian Sisters of Venice.

It was during Josephine’s time around the Canossian Sisters that she began to learn about God and Catholicism. This was an experience during which she learned about the Gospel.

At the age of 30, Josephine was baptized into the Catholic faith on January 9, 1890. She took the name Josephine Margaret. Jospehine’s warm demeanor persisted up until her death on February 8, 1947. Pope Saint John Paul II canonized her on October 1, 2000.

The Vincentian priests sponsored the cause to canonize Josephine Bakhita. Father Bill Sheldon, C.M. served as the Postulator General in Rome and worked on her cause during his tenure. He confirmed that there was an affiliation between the Canossian Daughters of Charity and the “Vincentian Family.”

Josephine held no bitterness toward her owners. In fact she once said, “If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today.”

What Drives the Demand for Human Trafficking?

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day (January 11) to the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita (February 8) is a month set aside for us to be more aware and pray for an end to human trafficking. It is a time to remember those who are vulnerable and more easily victimized–migrants, runaway youth, homeless youth, applicants for fake jobs in foreign places, etc. Usually trafficking is a crime against those who are disadvantaged and/or marginalized.

During this period of time, the Super Bowl, one of the largest and most publicized sporting events in the U.S., took place in Atlanta. According to the Urban Institute, Atlanta has the largest underground economy for commercial sex–including sex trafficking–in the country. Sexual exploitation of men, women, and children takes place in this city and in every corner of the world every single day.

While it is true that the demand for sex trafficking increases around events such as the Super Bowl, it is wrong to assume this is the ONLY reason for an increase in sex trafficking. Still, prior to the Super Bowl, there was an effort to make others aware of the dangers around human trafficking that arise when large groups (especially large groups of men) gather for such an event.

Another cause for an increase in demand of sex trafficking is pornography. Pornography production often involves the use of fraud, force, or coercion to prompt the performance of those being depicted. Additionally, traffickers often further exploit their victims by recording the acts which they perform and post these for commercial profit.

Often times, we think of trafficking as something very distant that doesn’t touch our lives. However, it is something that happens each day in the U.S. and it is up to us to be aware of this crime and report it to proper authorities. This requires learning the signs of trafficking.

Learning these signs is one of the easiest ways to help fight against this form of slavery. This fight starts with knowing what to look for and all it requires is for a person to be more vigilant and aware in their normal and everyday surroundings. Additionally, by teaching adults the signs of trafficking, studies show that we can help to prevent the progression of children being trafficked.

 

#TackleDemand

It’s common knowledge that human trafficking increases around the Super Bowl and other large events. (You can read more about that here.)

The #TackleDemand campaign is aiming to draw attention to this increase in demand and educate the public on the dangers of human trafficking as well as the warning signs and what to do if you suspect someone is being trafficked.

Use the hashtag #TackleDemand on your social media posts to get involved and help us fight human trafficking!

Click here to read more about the campaign.

National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

In December 2016, President Barack Obama instituted January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In his proclamation he stated, “Today, in too many places around the world – including right here in the United States – the injustice of modern slavery and human trafficking still tears at our social fabric.”

When thinking about Human Trafficking most people think of sex trafficking, however there are other ways that people are being bought and sold including forced labor, domestic servitude, organ harvesting, child soldiers and forced marriage. Millions of people throughout the world, including right here in the United States, are being forced into a life that is not of their choosing.

We must all raise our voices to shut down this billion-dollar industry! There are numerous actions that can be taken to help to increase public awareness and to stop this horrible injustice. Will you take the time to read and act?

  1. On Thursday, January 11th, participate in “The Blue Campaign by wearing a blue ribbon. Spread the word by distributing blue ribbons to others and taking a picture of yourself, your friends, family and co-workers wearing blue ribbons and post on social media with #WearBlueDay. Include a statement to explain the meaning of the ribbon and why you are participating.
  2. Go to the App Store and download:
    • TraffickCam App: Each time you travel, use the TraffickCam App to take pictures of your hotel room to add to the national database used by law enforcement to track places where trafficking is taking place.
    • The STOP App: Use the STOP app to report suspicious activity related to trafficking.
    • Sweat and Toil App: The Sweat & Toil app to learn how goods are produced and by whom.
  3. Visit Know The Chain to educate yourself about the risk of forced labor in the apparel, food, and technology industries.
  4. Check your state’s report card. States receive grades from A to F from Shared Hope International, which keeps a close eye on how each state meets certain criteria related to stopping human trafficking.
  5.  Save, post, and distribute the National Human Trafficking hotline number.
  6. When traveling, choose a hotel that has signed the Tourism Children Protection Code of Conduct sponsored by EPCAT-USA.
  7. Ask your church or organization to include an announcement in the bulletin (or elsewhere) regarding National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, noting that January 11th is “Wear Blue Day.” Encourage others to get involved in the movement to educate others by hosting workshops or presentations.
  8. Take the steps to learn more! Try these websites:

For additional tips to learn more about human trafficking, don’t hesitate to contact the Office of Migration & Modern Slavery!

SOA Watch & The Border Encuentro

As I write this, the Central American Migrant Exodus for Life–which includes over 13,000 asylum seekers–is fleeing political violence. In response, the United States government is deploying 15,000 soldiers to the US/Mexico border.

In 1990, School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch)–an advocacy organization founded by Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois and a small group of supporters–protested the training of Latin American military officers by the Department of Defense at the School of the Americas in Georgia. Now, SOA Watch is tirelessly advocating for justice for oppressed persons across the Americas. They organize opposition to its training in torture, oppose the militarization at the US border, and support policies to assist refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants to the United States.

For the third year, SOA Watch hosted a Border Encuentro on the Arizona-Mexico border on November 16-18, beginning with a vigil at a Detention Center in Eloy, Arizona. The participants marched to the beat of the May Day marching band, sang “No estan solos,” meaning, “You are not alone,” and could see the shadows of the detainees from afar in the windows of the buildings.

As the weekend progressed, other gatherings and workshops were held at the US/Mexico border in both cities named Nogales. This location was symbolic of the fact that no wall or border can deter the solidarity of people.

The meetings focused on the following principles:

  • An end to US economic, military, and political intervention in Latin America.
  • The closure of the School of Americas and Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
  • An end to Plan Merida and the Alliance for Prosperity.**
  • Demilitarization and divestment of borders.
  • An end to the racist systems of oppression that criminalize and kill migrants, refugees, and communities of color.
  • Respect, dignity, justice, and the right to self-determination of communities.

The SOA Watch Border Encuentro gave me a sense of hope and renewed energy to resist the structures of oppression and injustice that threaten communities. It reminded me that the only power that will bring liberation is people’s power, people’s resilience, and people’s faith.

** Plan Merida and the Alliance for Prosperity are both US policies that seek to further militarize Mexico and the northern region of Central America. The alleged goal is to confront the so-called drug war and contain mass displacement from the region. Rather, these policies have led to human rights violations.

How Does Talitha Kum Fight Trafficking?

These past weeks have been a living reminder that human trafficking exists both near and far. The many meetings and presentations I attended and/or gave show me that, when people are aware of the realities of human trafficking, they begin to feel an energy and the willingness to act. Each person is affected differently and, therefore, the response from each person is unique. Hopefully, as people learn about this terrible reality, they will act in creative ways to combat the issue. I have yet to find an individual or group not willing to do something about this scourge when they understand the reality.

Cleveland

One of the meetings I attended recently was the USCSAHT international “Borders are not Barriers” in Cleveland. Here, I met many sisters I know from Central Mexico and South America. Among them was Sister Gabrielle Botani, CMS, Coordinator of Talitha Kum at the Vatican. Talitha Kum, a project of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and the Union of Superiors General (USG), is an international network of members living a consecrated life who word against trafficking of persons. Working as a network facilitates collaboration and the exchange of information between 76 different countries.

Being together reiterates to me the fact that human trafficking is alive everywhere and certainly on this continent. As we hear about migrants journeying from Central America, we know how vulnerable they are in this unstable situation.

“People trafficking is a gross human rights violation which is often linked with mixed migration movements, but there has been little early identification and help for victims or those at risk,” said Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons.

Click here to read more about the Talitha Kum conference.

Under Reported, Under Served, Overlooked

When you think of a victim of human trafficking, what “picture” comes to mind?

For most of us, it’s a picture of a young girl or young woman walking the street in provocative clothing or being sold for sex on the web, at a truck stop, or in a hotel. Few of us picture a boy or a man in the same situation. Yet, the reality is that large numbers of boys and men find themselves as victims of human sex trafficking.

In a study done in 2008 by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it was found that males “comprised 45% of sexually exploited children in a study done in New York.” Another study done by ECPAT-USA in 2013 reported that the exploitation of male victims “is vastly under reported.”

There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon. Many male victims are reluctant to come forward about their victimization for fear of being considered weak. They, like their female counterparts, feel shame and guilt. Often, they are confused about their sexual orientation which adds to the shame and guilt. Others fear violence from their pimps if they come forward.

Male victims of sex trafficking suffer the same types of trauma as females. They often suffer from depression and are at risk for committing suicide and abusing drugs and alcohol. Many male victims have suffered physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse as children. They are more vulnerable because of this, as are those who find themselves in foster care or on the street after running from an abusive home.

Thankfully, the plight of male victims of sexual exploitation is coming to light. However, there are very few services for male victims. Many of those that do exist only provide short-term housing. Hopefully, with this new insight, more adequate aftercare and reintegration services will be established to help save exploited boys and men from the world of sex trafficking.

Click here to learn more about sex trafficking in boys and men.